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Latino/a Poetry Now Roundtable

By Harriet Staff

Head on over to the Poetry Society’s website for this roundtable on Latino/a poetry, featuring a discussion between Xochiquetzal Candelaria, Lorena Duarte, and Rigoberto González, who are all slated to read at Macalester College on October 10.

A sample, starting with the intro:

As this is the third of a projected five-part multi-year series, we have reached the half-way point of Latino/a Poetry Now. It has become clear—at least to me—that these online discussions are as important and meaningful as the public multi-author readings. We started at Harvard almost a year ago, moved on to Georgetown last March, and are now anticipating our stop at Macalester College in Saint Paul, MN—an installment that was originally conceived during my visit there in April of 2011. This is an opportunity, therefore, to thank Kristin Naca, poet and friend who teaches there, who is our principal collaborator “on the ground,” so to speak. Thanks, as well, to The Loft Literary Center for their support and collaboration. As always, our heartfelt gratitude to the Poetry Society of America, which gives this initiative its national veneer, as well as a home for these online discussions. Finally, Latino/a Poetry Now—a Letras Latinas initiative–would not be possible without the generosity of individual donors.

Francisco Aragón
Institute for Latino Studie
University of Notre Dame

Then, later in the discussion:

Lauro Vazquez:


The examples of movement I have given you are for the most part all visual, but movement of course is also a thing of mass and sound as in the flight of a bullet or the flutter of the eardrum at the touch of sound or in the ripple of air at the tip of a bird’s feather. How do you conceive of movement? Is artistic movement like the transfer of energy (where that energy is moved as if on a one way street from one place to the other) or can we think of it as something more dynamic where the “static” long line can defibrillate a poem with newly-found energy, where the narrative and lyrical can open up into poly-vocal lines and exploded texts igniting a conversation between content and form, where the marriage between how a poem is experienced and how a poem visually strikes us can lead us to that which is “impalpable in us all?”

Rigoberto González:

There’s plenty to respond to with this question. I confess that I have always leaned toward the more conservative configurations of the line—the standard left-justified, most likely regular stanzaic form. But that’s where convention ends for me. When it comes to sound, I aim to communicate plenty of music. Juan Felipe Herrera once explained that language generally moves in two directions: toward the page (what the poet writes in ink) and off the page (what readers hear when they read the ink). I appreciate that because it privileges sound, a few beats before meaning, which only comes together after multiple sounds (or words) are read. But first, there’s sound. Once upon a time I had to be a little more aware of it, now when I write, it’s second nature my reach for alliteration and internal rhyme. It’s pleasing to hear and it creates an interesting tension with the subject matter of my work, which is not easy to sit through sometimes.

Xochiquetzal Candelaria:

This question reminds me of Gerard Manely Hopkin’s idea of both instress and inscape. In short, he believed that each individual identity is both unique and constantly in flux (inscape) and that humans could hurl energy at living things (instress) and it would result in an accurate rendering of that entity’s uniqueness. He tries to capture this experience in his poetry through inventive alliteration and assonance so that to hear the poem is to experience what the poem describes. I have always admired this about Hopkins and have attempted to use it here and there in Empire. Hopkins also believed that the English language should never have been corrupted by romance languages, so I take great pleasure in knowing he would have hated my use of Spanish in poems written predominately in English. If he were here, I’d assure him it was just another example of everything being in influx. I also enjoy how a poem can move from one topic to another seamlessly. Poems that do this can highlight the complex nature of existence and how things are interconnected. I’d say I’ve tried to borrow from Larry Levis’s use of simile to do this. In one of Larry’s poems you can begin with the speaker’s fingernail and before you know it you are in a plaza in Veracruz where a woman is selling old movie posters. I made that up, so if the reader finds the example second rate, please read Larry!

Lorena Duarte:

I love this question! For me, movement is crucial, primarily in the inspiration for a poem, but certainly in its execution (by which I mean to say its form). And of course in its presentation.

I very much “hear” and “see” my poems first. It is a dance. And it is so deeply moving to me that I want to share that with my reader/audience. You should see me when I write. I’ll rock, wave my arms—and I swear my best ideas have come to me in fast-moving cars. The forms and tricks I use are all an attempt to infuse the poem with the movement that I first experienced. So a line break can be that long sob and thump in the chest (“Purple, Bruises, Sky”), the stanza break is a punch whizzing through the air (“Pretty Girl, Pick, Pick, Jump.”) I think you’ll note that I use a lot of repetition in my work and it is very much the same reason that a dancer repeats his/her movement: it is pleasing, it builds energy and momentum. It’s also why you move on to a different step: to surprise, to move on, to leave you wanting the familiar and wondering why. And there are other poems. Poems created in stillness. Perhaps under a duvet, or with a cat on top of you (“Poultice.”) Those tend to be shorter. They very much capture a solitary, quiet moment, the thought between thoughts (“For a Friend Far Away and Once Met.”) Other things: I associate rhyming with laughter—big, heaving belly laughs. And you’ll notice I’m not a big rhymer. I one day hope to write more rhymes. Also, I hate to share my poems from behind a podium. Hate it. Even if it’s just a hand gesture, or the raising of an eyebrow, I feel I can share my poems better when I come out from behind the podium. In fact, my favorite way to share a poem is if I have it memorized and I can walk, amble, point, stomp. Let the original movement that inspired the poem come to me and share it—in the moment—with other people.

Full discussion here.

Posted in Poetry News on Monday, October 1st, 2012 by Harriet Staff.